Telemedicine Helps Hospitals Keep Patients Local

Woman in wheelchair hugged by daughter

Healthcare executives who are challenged to keep patients local need to tailor telemedicine programs to their geography, patient mix, type of facilities, and physician “bench strength.” One size truly does not fit all. This was one of the key takeaways from an executive roundtable at the recent AHA Rural Healthcare Leadership Conference.

The discussion, moderated by Suzanne Hoppszallern, Senior Editor, Data and Research for AHA Health Forum, centered on the importance of providing effective and convenient care for patients to enable them to remain in their community for services.

“The great benefit to telehealth is to keep what’s local, local.”
— William Jacobsen, Vice President
Carilion Clinic

One of the challenges discussed was that once patients leave the community for health care, it can be difficult to get them to come back for other services. This has forced many healthcare executives to “think outside the box” beyond traditional telemedicine programs in teleNeurology, telePsychiatry, and teleICU.  To fill gaps in physician “bench strength”, roundtable participants have developed pilot, part-time, and full-time teleRadiology, teleNephrology, telePulmonology, and teleOncology programs, among others.

The needs of each community are different and the participants stressed the importance of building telemedicine programs that fit. There are programs that hospitals cannot afford NOT to have. There are also services that are underutilized. For example, one participant has a chemotherapy unit that is only staffed two days per week. If the hospital brought in outside oncologists through telemedicine, they could open the unit to patients all week, not only making it more convenient for existing patients, but also to expand it to benefit additional patients.

“We’ve built a telemedicine program designed to meet the needs identified in our community health needs assessment.”
Wesley Hoyt, COO
Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System

Geography is also a consideration in building telemedicine and telehealth programs. Many hospitals draw from large areas. After visiting the hospital for an acute issue, a patient may find it difficult to travel back to the hospital for vital follow-up care which could prevent readmission. Hospitals are using telemedicine programs to keep patients local by eliminating the burden of travel, which benefits both parties.

“We see greater opportunity to get equipment out into patients’ homes and monitor their care more closely.”
Linda Brockwell, RN, Director of Nursing
Wickenburg Community Hospital

Roundtable participants also use telemedicine as a recruitment and retention tool for physicians, providing back up support and enhancing work-life balance in areas of physician shortages. Augmenting onsite staff with providers via telemedicine means benefits like fewer overnight and weekend shifts, leading to higher morale and less burnout.

“As we recruit physicians, they want to know about quality of life.
And if they don’t have backup, it’s hard to convince them that they won’t be overwhelmed.”
Wesley Hoyt, COO
Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System

For more detail on the executive roundtable discussion, download our eBook, Rural Healthcare: Expanding Access Through Telemedicine.

If your organization wants to implement or expand telemedicine to keep patients local, contact us for how we can help you build a telemedicine program that benefits your community.